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Pyrolysis’ potential for fuels of the future

Bramhall Pyrolysis currently shows the most potential for making fuels of the future, a leading expert from Axion Consulting suggested at this week’s Green Supply Chain conference in York. Roger Morton, Director of resource recovery specialists Axion, says this process for converting biomass to useable transport fuels offers significant advantages over the alternative gasification method.

At the laboratory

Foto: ©Rolf van Melis/PIXELIO

His address to delegates at the November event, organised by the National Non-Foods Crops Centre, examined the fundamental differences and benefits of both chemical processes, which use heat to create fuels for blending with existing fossil-derived variants. This year’s conference focused on integration between the biorenewable sectors being key to a renewable carbon economy.

“Pyrolysis offers much greater yields at lower economic and environmental cost than gasification. This is because it efficiently converts the large molecules in the biomass to molecule size in the final fuel. There’s no easy answer, but it offers the more long-term practical solution,” Roger said. And added: “Other processes, such as gasification, break down the biomass into smaller molecules (usually CO2 and H2) which are then combined to create the fuel product using processes such as Fischer Tropsch synthesis. Such processes are thermodynamically less efficient and, therefore, will provide a lower product yield.”

Axion is a partner in Scarab Distributed Energy Ltd, which is looking to develop 10 to 15 distributed biomass to liquid fuels operations across the UK over the next few years. It brings specialist project management expertise in the resource recovery sector to the partnership’s work in developing novel ways of producing fuel and power from waste, including industrial food waste

VTT: New gasification method – for biofuel less than 1 € per litre

Lascut, Finland — According to the new research results of the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, lignocellulosic biomass can be used in the production of high-quality biofuels for the price of less than one euro per litre. A new technology developed in Finland allows the transfer of more than half the energy of wood raw materials to the end-product. The technology is considered ready for the construction of a commercial-scale production plant in Europe.

Fuel pump

Foto: ©Günter Havlena/Pixelio

VTT has assessed the techno-economics of the production of renewable liquid transportation fuels from forest residues. The case studies focused on the production of four biofuels using a method based on pressurised fluidised-bed gasification. The fuels studied were methanol, dimethyl ether (DME), Fischer-Tropsch liquids and synthetic gasoline.

Production cost by 0.5 to 0.7 €/litre

The results show that the production of renewable biofuels from lignocellulosic biomass, mainly bark and forestry residues, could achieve an energy efficiency of 50 to 67 percent, depending on the end-product and process conditions. Should the thermal energy produced as a by-product be exploited for district heat or industrial steam, for example, the overall efficiency from biomass to saleable energy products could reach 74 to 80 percent.

Based on the case studies, the research scientists estimated that once commercialised the technology can be used to produce liquid transportation fuel at the cost of 58 to 78 €/MWh. Converted into gasoline-equivalent price per litre, the estimated production cost would be 0.5 to 0.7 €/litre. The price of renewable solutions would thus be on a level with the current pre-tax price of fossil transportation fuels, and cheaper than existing imported biofuels.

Fuel for about 150.000 cars

Each case study design was based on a BTL plant with 300 MW capacity, the equivalent of a large district heating power plant. A biorefinery of this size could produce liquid transportation fuel for about 150.000 cars. The EU has set a target of 10 percent renewable energy content for the transportation sector by 2020. For Finland, the target is 20 percent.

After long-term development work, the technical functionality of the production process was verified through extensive testing at VTT test rigs as well as industrial piloting in Finland and in the US. The technology is now ready for its first commercial-scale demonstration. However, the first wave of these ground-breaking production plants requires significant public venture capital investment, for which planning has consequently been initiated at both Finnish and EU level.

Biomethanol with lowest costs

According to the research results, the best efficiency and lowest production costs were achieved in the production of biomethanol. The risks related to the commercialisation of the synthesis technology were also estimated to be lower with the biomethanol production plant compared to the other options.

Methanol is an alcohol fuel that can be used in modern cars at maximum three volume-percent content in combination with petrol or, as with ethanol, in high concentrations in FlexFuel cars designed for this purpose. Methanol can also be further converted to synthetic gasoline or used as renewable raw material in the manufacture of various chemicals and biomaterials

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